Dispute – May 1st – Exciting Scenes – Arrival of New Workmen

May 1885

Exciting Scenes At Denaby Main Colliery
Arrival And Return Of New Workmen

Early on Wednesday morning the village of Denaby Main, which has been the scene of so much excitement of late, witnessed another strange and exciting spectacle.

On the previous night a batch of what are vulgarly termed `black-sheep´ hailing from Walsall, were detrained at the colliery. The miners, who had their suspicions that some important movement was about to be made by the colliery officials, assembled with their wives and children, to the number of about one thousand two hundred, and gave the strangers a warm reception. The presence of a strong force of police, who had mustered in anticipation of a riot, prevented however, a display of force on the part of the infuriated multitude. After a scene of wild excitement, the vast crowd yelling, booing and shouting ” Baa ! black-sheep !” an adjournment was made to a field separated from the colliery by the river Don, where by the light of the moon, speeches were delivered, and ultimately the meeting dispersed.

An hour before sunrise the men and women were astir. Groups of the evicted miners were to be observed as early as four o´clock, wending their way through a heavy shower of rain towards the colliery. The women were conversing in loud tones on the reception they were about to give the new workmen who had been introduced into their district, while the threatening attitude of their lords, who almost without exception were armed with stout cudgels demonstrated that they were in no pleasant mood.

One by one the crowd which had assembled in the streets of Mexborough , melted away in he direction of Denaby Main, where in time a considerable assembly was formed. The men, after waiting about the colliery gates, split them -selves up into half a dozen sections, some watching the pit from Doncaster road, while others made their way along the banks of the river Don for the purpose of observing whether or no the newcomers would descend the shaft. In this way the colliery was completely surrounded, and the slightest incident which transpired was made known to the main body.

Opinions differed among the crowd of eager watchers as to the district from which the `black-sheep´ hailed, some contending that they were Welshmen, others asserting that they had taken train from Staffordshire.

Now and then, as a policeman or colliery official made his appearance he was greeted with a running fire of chaff and volleys of groans, which, however musical they may have appeared to the ears of the crowd, were truly infernal noises in the opinion of the music loving. After a few minutes of anxious expectation on the part of the assembly, the pulley wheels over the mouth of the shaft started to revolve, and a prolonged series of groans and yells arose from nearly five hundred throats. Women and lads as well as the men, joined in the tumult, which subsided somewhat as a new centre of attraction, in the shape of a deputy on his way to work was observed. About thirty women, hooting and yelling at the top of their voices, followed this person to the colliery gates, but beyond this vocal demonstration nothing was done by the crowd to provoke a breach of the peace.

Two of the policemen located at the colliery were observed to be carrying a pail for the purpose of obtaining water, and one of the miners jocularly inquired whether he was about to get some Wakefield `skilly.´ The limb of the law seemed to enjoy the joke, and the crowd, which was by this time considerably augmented, allowed him to pass without molestation.

One of the colliery officials, who appeared with a huge joint of roasted beef, for the sustenance of the police, was also allowed to enter the gates of the pit, a few of the miners lifting up the white cloth which hid the tempting morsel from their sight, and expressing in dumb show their delight if they had been allowed to participate in it´s demolition.

The police in the meantime had turned out from the colliery offices, which had been used by them as a barrack, and were to be observed in all parts of the premises, watching the antics of the more lively in the crowd.

One of the most demonstrative of the miners was engaged in performing his confreres that that was ” t´ beginning o´ t´ strike,” and a tale was freely circulated to the effect that during the night one of the new workmen, who had been heard to bemoan his lot on the previous day, had unaccountably disappeared from the colliery, his having eluded the constables in the darkness. The `black-sheep´ had during the night been located in a wagon shed in the colliery yard. Their position must have been a trying one, on account of the hideous yells and groans which broke upon their slumbers a few hours after they arrived at Denaby Main.

Shortly after the crowd yesterday morning had made it´s presence known, one of the new workmen named Frank Macdonald, asked to be allowed to leave the building in which he had been confined with his companions, and as soon as his request was complied with made his way to the bank of the river Don. He then observed a group of men standing on the opposite bank, and noticed among them a workman with whom he had been formerly intimately associated. One of the Denaby Main men asked him if he knew what he was doing, and laid their statement of the case before him. Macdonald promised immediately that if they would do him no harm he and his companions would all leave the colliery, provided that the Denaby ain men would pay their train fares back to Walsall, the town from which they started. He was informed that the men and boys who had arrived at the colliery during the night would be furnished with their train fare, and that they would not be molested. Macdonald returned a related the conversation to his friends. Shortly afterwards they were asked to descend into the pit by one of the officials, but they refused, and made their way to the gates of the colliery.

Their arrival was greeted with a huge outburst of cheering. Handkerchiefs, sticks, umbrellas, and hats of all descriptions were waved in the air, and, to herald what the men designated as a `great victory´ a big drum which had been imported to the scene was brought into full play. It was now just past half past five o´clock, the rain had ceased falling, and a tremendous crowd had collected. The strangers were grasped by the hand and placed in front of the tin-whistle band, and the motley procession moved off, headed by about forty women who were waving handkerchiefs affixed to the ends of their umbrellas, and shouting to everyone they met ” We´ve got `em.” The drummer beat his loudest, and the shrill tin-whistles led off with the strain ” Wait till the clouds roll by.”

The crowds joined in heartily and proceeded through Doncaster Road, Mexborough, until the lodge-room was reached. There the new arrivals were asked to give an account of themselves. One said he had only come to Denaby Main as a `bit of a take down.´ Another said that he had not been informed that there was a strike, and that he had been told that he could earn from 7s. to 9s. per day. From a statement made by one of the lads with the party, it appeared that there were originally sixteen persons, but three disappeared at Barnsley. The remaining thirteen were composedof n ine men and four boys.

Two of the latter were shoe-blacks and had never been down a coal-pit ; they had brought their blacking brushes with them in order to earn a few pence in case the situation promised them did not come up to their expectations. He said the party slept on straw in the wagon shed, and that they had two blankets each. They did not get much sleep on account of the `booing´ on the previous night. They were asked to go down the pit in the morning, but they said they would not.

The men went towards the colliery gates and the lads followed. He was hired at Walsall, and was told that he would be able to earn 4s. per day. There was a great many more coming from Walsall. Nothing was mentioned to him about the strike, and no one said there was a number of men out of work ; but they were told there was too much work for the men at Denaby Main. They thought the men were in full work when they started, as the man who had hired them had said ” We have plenty of work and have no men to do it.” Two of them worked in a coal pit, the other two did not. He and another lad brought their brushes with them to clean shoes at the station. They could not get a living at Walsall. He would not have stayed in the colliery yard for £100, as he was so frightened, and if anyone had placed £100 in his hand he would not have stopped there.

Two of the men came from Bloxwich. One of the colliery officials told him not to be frightened when the crowd appeared, and said no one would hurt him, but directly they heard the band they left the pit. Both men and boys looked very destitute, and some of the miners, taking compassion on them gave them articles of wearing apparel. The whole party were entertained liberally at the Lodge rooms and supplied with breakfast, and afterwards they were escorted to the Swinton railway station by the Denaby Main men and provided with their train fare to Walsall.

On returning from the colliery, a meeting was held near the lodge-room. The Chairman expressed his gratification that they had obtained a victory with honour and without losing a man. They had heard what the manager had told the men who had arrived from Staffordshire in order to lure them away. The manager had not told them that he had turned them into the street. Those men had been offered 7s. to 9s. per day, but the Denaby Main men would go to work for 4s. or 5s. per day. Mr. Chambers had told the men that in the Montagu Jinny they could earn 12s. per day.

Was there a man in Denaby Main who had ever earned that money ? ( No )

He produced a number of pay notes which showed that £8 3s 2d., £ 10 14s 9d., and £9 4s 2d. had been shared amongst nine men on various weeks. If the men were to go to work at the reduction they would not be able to earn 2s. 6d. per day. The meeting then concluded.